Well, as you might expect, we will have full-on fiscal cliff panic today, with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Lindsay Graham. Hopefully they will talk about the way in which their two parties "came together" this week in bipartisan fashion to guarantee that our electronic communication will be under constant surveillance forever. That's the wonderful thing about bipartisanship, it spawns no end of terrible, irresponsible nonsense.
Like the so-called "fiscal cliff," which should really be called the "fiscal monument to the accomplishments of bipartisanship." How soon before we carve David Brooks and Thomas Friedman's faces onto it, like a Mount Rushmore to goopy, Aspen Ideas Festival Wanking? I will try to glean answers to these questions, from listening to Feinstein and Graham, who are probably listening to me anyway, through keylogging software.
At any rate, we are in the middle of a bunch of last minute nonsense, and Graham reckons that we will have some nonsensical end to this nonsensical period of our lives in short order. He calls the potential for some deal that will result in more hurt feelings and angsty editorials "exceedingly good" and says that President Obama has secured a political victory on tax rates, and that it's super-sad that "we accomplished very little in not becoming Greece." I sort of hoped that "we are becoming Greece" is the sort of monkey-screech talking points that would have died back when Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann dropped out of the 2012 election, but apparently not.
Will the Senate vote for it though? Graham is a study in bitchy passivity, saying that if "McConnell can't get 60 Senators to vote for it" it will make it harder for Boehner to pass, but that he "will want to vote for it even though he doesn't like it."
Feinstein says that Graham is "partially right," because lots of Americans lost unemployment insurance and "from here on it's lose-lose" because of the "contraction of the economy." UGH. Okay, it's not ALL BAD if we go over the cliff. The Bush era tax rates all expire and Obama can basically write his own ticket knowing that he can veto anything he doesn't like. The "sequester cuts" don't all go into effect immediately, and Congress can disentangle themselves from that if they really want to. It's dumb that unemployment insurance is even part of this debate, dumber still that we're getting rid of the payroll tax holiday (bipartisanship in action, there, by the way), which we should go ahead and do for another year.
But what's really amazing is that the "economic contraction" that Feinstein is talking about isn't something that "could happen," it's something that is ongoing, in the form of a sustained crisis of inadequate aggregate demand and unemployment and the reason this crisis is sustained is basically because Congress has spent the last few years setting elaborate and stupid traps for each other over the long-term trajectory of the budget instead of buckling down and solving the economic crisis that's existed since 2008. Sadly, the people affected by the economic crisis cannot get booked on Sunday morning teevee and can't afford lobbyists, and so we have this precious little fantasy world in which "averting the fiscal cliff" gets sold as something that would be a major legislative accomplishment.
Feinstein says that she and Graham could probably sit down and make a deal right now, and Graham nods, and what can I say? There's nothing stopping them from writing the "Feinstein-Graham Fiscal Fairydust Blah-de-blah Act of 2012" right now, and asking for a vote on it. Instead, they have happily agreed to all these reindeer games that have led to this point.
Graham believes that the Senate will happily pass tax increases on people earning $500,000 and above, and that this will get a majority of both parties in the House as well. Feinstein believes that the mandate is at $250,000 and above, but she could live with a higher threshold. Nothing that resembles any sort of tax increase will pass the House with a majority of Republicans ahead of the deadline, no matter how hard Graham wants it.
They move on to the sequestration cuts. Graham has been talking to Leon Panetta, the Secretary of the Defense Department, and can convey his worry that the cuts that are due to happen because of the failure of the stupid Super Committee will be terrible for the Defense Department. Of course, the cuts to the Defense Department are but one-half of the sequester. You only hear about that half because there is a Defense Department and a well-connected Washington insider who calls Lindsey Graham on the phone and doesn't get put on hold. The reason we don't hear about the other side of the sequester is because there isn't a Department Of Fighting For Some Semblance Of Decent Lives For Lower- and Middle-Class Americans run by a clapped-out Beltway insider who knows Lindsey Graham because they were both at a key party at Sally Quinn's house.
Anyway, what they will probably do is just double the cuts that are scheduled to land on the backs of poor people, and keep the War in Afghanistan going, which is also being fought on the backs of poor American kids, who at least can opt for the "dying horribly in some remote valley" retirement plan.
Feinstein insists that they are totally getting serious about spending, and have cut a whole lot of spending via the continuing resolution and the Affordable Care Act. She thinks that the sequestration is too much too quickly. Remember: this terrible idea only exists because your legislators thought that having to pay terrible consequences for doing nothing would TOTALLY INSPIRE THEM TO DO SOMETHING.
Feinstein also notes that it would be dangerous to just get up one morning and take many, many billions of dollars out of the economy, and so everyone is finally a Keynesian again.
Graham says, "Why would I raise the debt ceiling again?" The answer of course, is that he had a hand on passing a lot of laws that caused money to be spent, and now he has to reaffirm his promise to pay for that. Graham is, sadly, operating with the whole terrible "raise the debt ceiling" metaphor, where "raising" the "ceiling" is a permissive step to more spending. What it actually entails is simply acknowledging the fact that the previous expenditures made by previous Congresses will be honored. When Graham says, "Why would I raise the debt ceiling again?" you should imagine someone asking their landlord, "Why would I pay my rent again?" Not paying your rent will certainly free up a lot of money in your budget, but chances are, your landlord would cite your prior agreement to pay that rent and then toss you out of your home. That is a good simulation of what "defaulting on your sovereign credit" looks like, actually -- total fiscal calamity forever.
That's why it's too bad Feinstein doesn't just say, "This guy is a lunatic." She's probably bought the notion that the debt ceiling is something to assemble deals on, because it offers everyone the sheen of appearing to be responsible. No one is talking about ending any costly wars, though. Both these Senators want to pay for a massive surveillance state of your electronic communication in perpetuity, you realize. So they aren't particularly serious about the matter of spending. And again, what's galling is that the American people are up to their teats in an untreated economic crisis. If I could get two people into the Senate who would fight everyday to fix the current economic crisis, I would sell Feinstein and Graham to slave-traders for a box of toothpicks.
Feinstein says that she is convinced that solving the fiscal cliff crisis will guarantee a robust economy again. That is some DANGEROUS thinking.
And that's just the first fifteen minutes of today's high-test manure! We'll go to the "speed round."
Graham wants Hillary Clinton to testify on Benghazi, and she has said she will, as the Secretary of State, and apparently even John Kerry wants that to happen before he is formally nominated. Feinstein says that there is a lot to learn about the attacks in Benghazi, about preparedness and security. (And at the end of the day, the "lesson" will probably entail "spending more money.")
What happens if Chuck Hagel gets nominated? Graham says that there will be confirmation hearings that will "matter" and have "consequence." He also says that Hagel will have "very little Republican support," because he is being nominated by a Democrat. Obama should nominate John McCain, just so John McCain can filibuster himself on general principle.
Feinstein talks about her intention to introduce legislation that would essentially be an assault weapons ban along with a clip-capacity restriction. Wallace wants to know why this would be better than Wayne LaPierre's proposal of putting a minimum-wage mall cop with a gun at every school. Feinstein dispenses with some obviousl details first -- there are already armed guards at one-third of American schools, deterring nobody, and if Columbine provides us with any reality test of this idea, then you can take a look at the bang-up job that school's armed guard did at stopping two teenage killers. As to her legislation, she feels that it responds to the way these weapons are growing more and more sophisticated, military-grade arms.
She also says that this is just "one effort" to make things right, and that any time people are killing six-year old kids with military-grade weapons, then something is terribly wrong and you have to do something. Graham, naturally, wants to uphold the status quo ante. He also owns an AR-15, he says. Sorry, guys, the thought of Lindsey Graham holding an AR-15 is so unbelievably hilarious that it makes my brain go bonkers for a minute or two.
"You're not going to be able to stop mass-murder," Graham says, by making laws that restrict guns. I move we tear down all these traffic lights, then! They are a huge taxpayer expense and they'll never stop all traffic accidents. Some people just flagrantly run them, anyway.
Filibuster reform is the next topic. Maybe the Senate refuses to reform the filibuster because Lindsey Graham is always threatening people with his AR-15? Anyway, Graham doesn't want to change the institution that is the Senate, because what would happen if they started doing things and having to take responsibility? Feinstein, on the other hand, offers some faint hope to filibuster reformers. I love quaint old traditions as much as the next person, but really...I've a yen for straight up-and-down votes, and the consequences that follow.
And it's panel time, now, with Bill Kristol and Evan Bayh and Byron York and Kirsten Powers.
Kristol says that he doesn't know what's going to happen on the fiscal cliff but maybe something will? And he'll probably have some complaints about it? Bayh says that there is a "50-50 chance" of a deal that won't accomplish anything, and, you know, feh. Good talk, guys.
York says that the only impetus behind the GOP caving is denying Obama the chance to enact the "Obama tax cuts" which would be just as generous as the Bush tax cuts to most people, with the exception of high-income individuals that the whole country wants to soak anyway. That's a remarkably honest assessment, so remember that -- the GOP is sincerely serious about the deficit or spending or grand bargaining -- in fact, they don't have any policy interest at all -- they just don't want the president to have a huge reputational victory that adds to his legacy.
Powers says that what the GOP should have done is cave on tax rates a month ago and then use their recovered leverage to "hammer the President every day on spending," and that's pretty much the correct assessment of the politics. Of course, if you want to know what the GOP should have actually done, it's they should have taken the astoundingly GOP-friendly deficit deal that Obama offered John Boehner way back when, passed it, and celebrated getting the largest long-term budget concessions that any Republican House majority ever scored from a Democratic president.
The powerful lobbies that have their hands up Evan Bayh's backside make sure to have Bayh say that the real problem is that taxing the wealthy doesn't adequately impoverish middle-class Americans, and will thus be a "pyrrhic victory." Kristol says that whatever deal is wrought, it will not do anything the "stimulate economic growth," which is funny because the main reason that will happen is because Obama will probably bargain away the stimulus he said he wanted initially to get a worse deal, and Kristol will actually be happy to see that go.
Do you want to hear the panel's predictions for 2013? Oh, well, tough!
Kristol says that we will have "big foreign policy challenges in Iran and Syria" and that someone -- maybe Israel but also maybe us! -- will get all "military intervention" on Iran. If it's us, I'm sure we will pay for it with the magic pile of money that never gets considered when the time comes to "pay down the deficit."
Bayh says that he's pretty sure that political campaigning will continue. That's basically the same thing as Bayh predicting that his body will tranform the breakfast he ate this morning into fertilizer.
York says that the "implementation of Obamacare" will be a big political story in 2013, and everything will totally go wrong for everyone who supported it. (Basically, he predicts that corporations that currently limit people's benefits and compensation by treating their employees cheaply will continue to do so in 2013.)
Powers predicts there will be some immigration reform-like stuff that happens.
Bill Kristol uses this platform to thank whoever gave him opera tickets. Bayh says, "the award for best farce or tragedy will go to Congress." Ha, ha. It's nice to hear Evan Bayh cracking the lamest jokes in the world instead of whining or making that gross, wet, suctiony sound that comes when a buffoon tries to fit as much corporate cash into his alimentary canal as he possibly can. Byron York says that "Lincoln" will win all the Oscars, and Powers thinks "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" though she notes that the "torture stuff" in the latter is very controversial. Ha, ha, yes, Kirsten, all that "torture stuff" that is supposed to lead the perpetrators to some sort of eternal damnation in any competent system of morality! Ha, LOL, that "torture stuff" has real consequences, like someone might not win an Oscar.
Kristol says that the "gold standard" will be the topic of serious discussion, which means it's zero dark thirty for everyone with a brain. York says Apple's stock value will decline. Bayh says that housing will "start overperforming" and revive the economy, and "this is a good time to buy a home," and if you want to trust Evan Bayh on that, good luck to you. Powers says that the economy will get vaguely better, and housing will do some stuff, but the fiscal cliff could also do some stuff, and she basically ends up making a catch-all prediction that boils down to "Economy, boy, I don't know."
As a fan of the Washington football team, I am overjoyed to hear that Kristol is picking them to miss the playoffs, because that, in all likelihood, means that the fates will align to do their traditional thwarting of Kristol's predictions. Bayh thinks sports teams from Indiana are just the greatest. York says some stuff about golf. Kirsten Powers is apparently in the process of learning about what "sports" are and what various teams are named and what balls they use.
I think the salient point is that there are never any consequences for being hilariously wrong about something you say on these television shows, unless you are Susan Rice.
THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW
This show is basically going to be a half-hour listicle of year-end nonsense, so let's just bare bones this thing and move on to Meet The Press.
What did 2012 mean to Mike Duffy? Obama was brilliant to bet a lot of money early on a plan to paint Romney as a plutocrat, because who saw that strategy, miles and miles in advance? He thinks that Obama benefitted from Romney being particularly incompetent in Ohio. He says that the GOP did a lot of reality-denying, the highlight of which was Romney's crazy lie about Fiat moving Jeep manufacturing jobs to China. He is flabbergasted that General David Petraeus was boning his biographer and now his career is destroyed.
What did 2012 mean to Katty Kay? Thinks that Obama's ability to take out Romney early was a brilliant tactical maneuver, and she highlights the involvement of David Plouffe, because...he did the same thing in 2008? Kay thinks that Obama got lucky when the New York Times put the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" on Romney's famous op-ed. She thinks that Romney said a lot of dumb things on the campaign trail. She thinks it's hilarious that Silvio Berlusconi is running for office again. She remains mystified by Obama's debate performance in Denver.
What did 2012 mean to Helene Cooper? It means another year in which she's failed to learn how to pronounce Katty Kay's first name. (She thinks it rhymes with "knotty.") She says that Eric Fehrnstrom's "Etch-A-Sketch" line was a super-hilarious game-changing gaffe. She thinks that time Paul Ryan lied about his marathon times was hilarious. Like Duffy, Cooper is amazed at the way David Petraeus' career ended.
What did 2012 mean to Sam Donaldson? Besides his recent troubles with the law, I mean? He is impressed with how much of the Latino vote Obama got by not demonizing Latino voters pointlessly for months and months, as the GOP candidates did. He adds that the entire primary season benefitted Obama, especially the part where someone in the audience of a primary debate yelled out, "Yeah, let him die!" when Ron Paul was discussing health care. He thinks that Romney failed "to connect with ordinary Americans" and made a lot of gaffes. He really liked that time Colin Powell sang "Call Me Maybe" off-key. Donaldson also thinks that Obama's Denver debate performance is one of the great, enduring mysteries of the modern era.
Matthews thinks that Romney was "awesome in the first debate." He actually elicited Chris Matthews' awe, folks.
WHAT WERE THE GAME CHANGINGEST GAME CHANGERS OF 2012? Cooper says it was Chris Christie hugging Obama over a hurricane. Donaldson says it was the "47%" video that torpedoed the Romney campaign. Kay agrees. Duffy says that it was Hurricane Sandy, but because it reminded people about how government assists ordinary people in times of crisis. "Sandy is always important," says Donaldson, who apparently lives space and time in a different way than the rest of us. (Also, the House Republicans would disagree on its importance.)
And who had the GREATEST GANGNAM STYLE GAME CHANGING YEAR OF 2012, besides Obama, of course, who wins another four years of overseeing Washington's elegant, decadent dysfunction? Donaldson says it was...Queen Elizabeth, because "she's done a great job." Doing what? DON'T OVERTHINK THIS. (Sam Donaldson comes out in favor or Scottish independence, too!) Cooper also says the Queen had a good year, because...she got to meet Hugh Bonneville from "Downton Abbey" at a party? Huh? What?
Duffy says the Clintons had a great year, and everyone agrees that Hillary will run for President, and maybe more people will get to meet the stars of Downton Abbey, and also Homeland was bonkers this year, and hey lots of people will probably die in Afghanistan. (The last prediction is mine! Just thought I would play, too!)
MEET THE PRESS
Oh, man, they are really, really trying to suffuse Meet The Press with something approaching actual gravitas this morning, leading off by insisting that the show is a super-important institution of journalism and then having Gregory jump immediately into portentious, worrying discussion over the "fiscal cliff" -- it is a super serious metaphor that consumes everything and everybody! So, what does the President have to say about it? And will Gregory be as tough on Obama as he was on Mitt Romney back during the "most important election in America's history" when he asked him things like:
"What's the Romney/Ryan bumper sticker?"
"Why is ["Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive"] not a good bumper sticker?"
"When is the last time you got to spend some quality time from someone who is out of work and what did you get from that?"
"Do you think [Bill Clinton] could be elected today?"
"How do you feel? You feel like you’re winning? Do you feel like you’re losing?"
"What do you think is going on?"
"Nevertheless, a lot of attention to, beside yourself, big headliner on your final night and that was Clint Eastwood. He actually said after, you know, taking some-- some shots about this that it was mission accomplished. Now, I got to ask you, were you-- were you laughing along with him or were you wincing part of the time, Governor?"
"But it was a little bizarre, wasn’t it, to have him talking to the chair?"
Because when the stakes ARE THIS HIGH, and the nation is months away from the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION GARBLE IN THE HISTORY OF BLARGH, you can count on this man, David Gregory, to rise to the occasion and ask about that weird thing Clint Eastwood did.
So, then: "Are we going over the fiscal cliff?" Obama says that it will depend on what Congress does, and then goes on a lengthy explanation of what the "fiscal cliff" is. No one on this show has actually attempted to explain this, to the best of my knowledge, preferring instead to simply outwardly manifest a blind animal panic about it, so here's how the President sees it:
It's actually not that complicated. The tax cuts that were introduced in 2001, 2003, 2010, those were extended and they're all about to expire at the end of the year. So on midnight December 31st, if Congress doesn't act, then everybody's taxes go up. And for the average family that could be mean a loss of $2,000 income.
For the entire economy that means consumers have a lot less money to make purchases, which means businesses are going to have a lot less customers, which means that they're less likely to hire and the whole economy could slow down at a time when the economy is actually starting to pick up and we're seeing signs of recovery in housing and employment numbers improving.
And so what Congress needs to do, first and foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of Americans. And this was a major topic of discussion throughout the campaign. What I said was is that we should keep taxes where they are for 98% of Americans, 97% of small businesses, but if we're serious about deficit reduction we should make sure that the wealthier are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long-term trajectory of growth.
If you were dimly aware of this thing we had called the "election," this is all a bunch of stuff you've heard before. Probably the reason he came on "Meet The Press" to do it is to just fill the vacuum left by "Meet The Press" with his own talking points on the matter.
Obama goes on the say that the GOP has been made various offers, and they've thus far turned them down, and so now Obama has scaled back the deal to a smaller agreement that would involve tax rates and unemployment insurance. If the GOP agrees to this, it will probably lessen Obama's bargaining position on spending and cuts to earned benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security, which invites the possibility that he might, at some point in the future, do what is known as "folding up like a cheap suit" -- but hey, maybe he's not folding under pressure, maybe these are his actual positions and the people who voted him into office to hold various lines are going to find out the hard way!
Now, remember, folks! The fiscal cliff is supposed to be VERY SCARY. Americans should be worried! So David Gregory's next question will probably be an astute and engaging inquiry that gets right to the heart of what ordinary human beings are enduring in their daily lives.
DAVID GREGORY: If you go over the cliff, what's the impact in the markets, which have been pretty confident up until now the deal would get done?
Ha, ha, just kidding! David Gregory is obviously super-concerned about the stock portfolios of the upper crust, and the possibility that panic-prone idiots might cede some wealth the other investors who are not as afraid of boogey-men created by the Beltway media.
Obama says that it's "hard to speculate on the markets." It's also completely unnecessary. He goes on to say that what's been "holding us back is the dysfunction here in Washington," which is true but I consider treating the long-term budget projection as an immediate concern during an ongoing calamity to be the largest manifestation of this dysfunction.
Gregory next asks: "What about automatic spending cuts? Those take effect January 1st as well. Do they have to be part of this deal? You've got half of those cuts in defense alone." Obama's answer does not include something to the effect of, "You understand that those cuts actually do not all drop like a box of rocks on New Years' Day, right?" so it's not worth talking about.
Next, Gregory asks: "Well, you talk about dysfunction in Washington. You signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can't get anything done and that we are at this deadline again?" Well, Obama is plenty accountable. But the real point here is that people like David Gregory are completely besotted with this long and dumb Deficit Panic Opera, and so it's really weird to hear him ask after "accountability" at this late date. The only way to avoid accountability in the Game Of Deficit Hacks is to refuse to play along.
David Gregory briefly turns into an anthropomorphic Thomas Friedman column: "But when they say leadership falls on you, Mr. President, you don't have a role here in breaking this impasse? You've had a tough go with Congress."
You see in the real world where I live, I have watched Obama offer lots of deals to the Republicans in Congress. I don't necessarily find everything about those deals attractive, but they exist. I recognize that they are very GOP-friendly offers, from a Democratic president. I further recognize that had Democrats offered such deals back in the sainted days where everyone ate steak together and got along, Republicans would have been flabbergasted at the way those deals offered a lot of concessions to those who govern with a typically conservative set of philosophies.
Nevertheless, I have watched these deals founder simply because the GOP's legislators -- over the objection of and to the enduring, torturous distraction of their party's own Speaker of the House -- reject these deals because there is no political cost to be paid for being a slavering, idiot refusenik. And that defines the impasse...the "tough go with Congress."
Now, what people like David Gregory believe, is entirely different, because they live in a weird, whimsical world in which the smell of their own farts is some sort of pleasant combination of an ayuhasca-like vision hallucinogen and a powerful aphrodisiac. Gregory believes that this impasse exists solely because Obama has not shown sufficient willpower to make the deal happen. In this scenario, the President should be like the cartoon super-hero Green Lantern -- endowed with the ability to make a physical manifestation of willpower so strong that it is undeterrable. In this case, the only reason the GOP has not come on board with an agreement is because Obama has not yelled loud enough, or conjured the right magical words, or displayed an insufficient amount of pure, unadulterated sentiment to forge a way over the impasse.
In other words, the world is one great melodrama, and if Obama were a real leader, he would literally soften the hearts of his political enemies with some magical display of rhetoric and gesture, and thus bring about the Hollywood ending to this trumped up deficit crisis, and Coldplay's "Fix You" plays over the end credits.
You think I am kidding? You think that I am being hyperbolic? Here is a question that David Gregory asked today: "What is it about you, Mr. President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?" What I have described is PRECISELY what David Gregory thinks is at work here, in the serious world of fiscal policy.
If anything, I am understating it! Look, this is all actually stuff that a large portion of the Beltway media ACTUALLY BELIEVE. Think about that, the next time someone makes fun of the weird things that, say, Scientologists believe. David Gregory is not so different from a guy who thinks a tyrannica;l space monster stuffed a bunch of bad vibes into a volcano back during the creation of the universe.
Here's the part where David Gregory calls for Obama to bravely commit himself to impoverishing people:
If this fight comes back-- and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements. Medicare and Social Security. Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you've suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you'd have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I've said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.
DAVID GREGORY: You've got to talk tough to seniors--
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But--
DAVID GREGORY: --don't you about this? And say, something’s got to give?
Remember, in Washington, it's crazy and extreme to talk about provding everyone with healthcare or an education. It's nuts to suggest that people should be able to live on a full-time wage. You get laughed out of the room if you suggest that solving Social Security is as simple as removing the income caps on contributions. But you get praised for "tough talk." And "tough talk" is always about going to the people on the edges of economic dislocation and telling them that their country needs them to be futher impoverished, sorry. At least we can acknowledge that this is "tough." Heaven forfend when this becomes "easy!" I think they only reason it is "tough" is because people like David Gregory are still somewhat dimly aware of concepts like the "social compact" and "systems of morality."
Of course, Obama notes that he's already proposed a significant impoverishment of the elderly known as "chained CPI." Either David Gregory has never heard of it, or he thinks that more impoverishment is required. He doesn't actually acknowlege any of this response to his inquiry, preferring instead to ask, "Are you going to reform this in your first year? Your first year? Your first year?" like a parakeet.
There is a discussion on gun control, in which the President talks about the task force he's put together to address the problem. Gregory's big follow-up question is...not a question! He just says, "The NRA says it's just not going to work."
He goes on: "Do we have an armed guards at every school in the country? That's what the NRA believes. They told me last week that could work."
It's nice to know that the end result of Gregory's lengthy fooferaw with the NRA is that he just accepts all of the premises as inalterable fact. I love the way Gregory just went out of his way to avoid forming his own bona-fide conclusions on the matter. Very brave and serious.
There is a brief colloquy on Benghazi. Obama says that the Pickering/Mullen Review Board "did a very thorough job in identifying what were some severe problems in diplomatic security," and that Hillary Clinton "has indicated that she is going to implement" many of their recommendations.
Gregory asks Obama if he "let [his] friend Susan Rice hang out there to dry a little bit." I guess Gregory is incapable of making an independent assessment on whether Susan Rice deserved to be castigated, so he'll ask Obama, because who knows what he might say! He might say something like, "Yes, I totally hung my friend out to dry, I am a complete bastard."
"No," he answers. Well, couldn't have seen that coming!
Gregory asks about Chuck Hagel getting nominated to run the Defense Department. Obama says a bunch of nice things about Hagel while simultaneously saying that he's not actually suggested that he should run the Defense Department. Everyone is just trial ballooning. I imagine that this process just makes Hagel glad to be alive, every day.
Gregory then gives Obama the leeway to offer a lengthy filibuster on his "legacy." Gregory's follow-up question is a searing one: "Is this your Lincoln moment?" Good thing that the hot new Spielberg movie is a Lincoln biopic! It would have been really hard to take Gregory seriously if he'd asked, "Is this the moment where you 'phone home' after eating a bunch of Reese's pieces?"
DAVID GREGORY: Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
Sure, outside of the part where Gregory was talking about political reality as if it could be determined by a Green Lantern power ring, that was probably like receiving a shiatsu massage, so I imagine he did!
Now we will panel our behinds off with Chuck Todd and Jon Meacham and Tom Brokaw and David Brooks and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who are like the Five Horsemen of the Gravitas Apocalypse.
Brooks says "most of the blame has to go on the Republicans" for the dysfunction but he "faults Obama" for occasionally governing "like a visitor from a morally superior universe" (and not the morally superior universe from which all David Brooks' columns gain their eminence!) and not building enough "trust" with the GOP.
Ha, ha, yes: Obama did not build enough "trust!" With magic words, I guess! I would heartily recommend Mr. Brooks read James Wolcott's article, "The Conspiracy To Commit Legislative Constipation," and avail himself of some knowledge, that might inform the particularities of the potential for trust-building.
Here is some stuff that Brooks really believes: "If the president wants to get stuff done over the next four years, it's got to be a lot more than making the intellectual concessions. It's got to get to the place where republicans say, 'Okay, we'll take a risk. this guy won't screw us.' they don't feel that right now."
Oh, hey, the GOP doesn't feel that right now? I mean, I wonder why? I thought an honest John could not be conned!
Anyway, David Brooks could have come out on the set today and said, "Last night, gray aliens from Saturn abducted me from my home and shoved a transvaginal wand in my nethers and yanked around for a good solid six hours," and it would have been a more credible take on the world.
Chuck Todd notes that Obama is "not making the next forty-eight hours" a "do or die" situation, probably because his negotiating leverage goes from "great" to "amazing." Brokaw seems to understand that Obama is ready and willing to make enormous concessions on earned benefit programs, regardless of how much leverage he has. That's an important, accidental juxtaposition. What's unfortunate is that Brokaw has concluded that "everybody is talking about protecting the middle class here," by virtue of the fact that no one wants to raise taxes on them. The reason no one wants to raise taxes on the middle class is because everyone's been elected to office on the basis of a promise to NOT raise taxes on the middle class.
But that doesn't mean that "everybody is talking about protecting the middle class here." Precisely no one who figures prominently in the "fiscal cliff" discussion is talking about alleviating the middle class by reversing the long-term trend of economic disparity or wage decline.
Goodwin assesses Obama's interview thusly: "What was interesting to me about his talk with you is I think he learned from that first term where he was arguing to explaining things. He talked simply and conversationally in this thing. He repeated over and over again his own point, fairness, balance. He talked about middle class out rather from the bottom up. That seems to be a new phrase. And I think he's learned what Theodore Roosevelt learned, when you're speaking to the American people and want to make an argument, it has to be simple. I thought he spoke in a different tone today, more conversational, and that's something you learn from your first term, where he thought he had spoken too much over people's heads or too explanatory."
That's a pretty complicated way of saying, "Obama figured out you don't have to bring your 'A-game' on Meet The Press."
Now, we have a moment of David Gregory, in which he distills himself to his own essence, drinks it, excretes it, and then sips it again:
GREGORY: Jon Meacham, the president's obvious irritation -- Chuck was just mentioning it before we started -- at the notion that it's a "pox on both houses."
GREGORY: And one of the president's top advisers is rather defensive on Twitter saying it should bug every American because it's lazy journalism and punditry and has a real effect on our political system. Well, here's the reality that even his advisers have to understand. the American people, Republicans and Democrats, do look at results or the lack thereof. So it's not lazy punditry when people are out there very frustrated with both ends of this.
Oh, wow. For starters, the whole "both sides do it" thing is "lazy punditry." One side didn't conspire to plug up the legislative process with the explicit strategy that no matter how many concessions the other side made, it would never be enough. The casualties in that nonsense now include Chuck Hagel, who was a revered member of the GOP establishment until he became a potential Obama-nominee, and now he's a guy that would get "few votes" from his own party's Senators. One side didn't say it was reasonable to threaten the global economy with the debt ceiling. One side is clearly willing to compromise, significantly, in these current "fiscal cliff" talks. I guess, in a way, it can't just be considered "lazy punditry," because even a lazy pundit has to successfully generate brainwaves. It's more like a "persistent vegetative state."
But you know what, it's just beside the point to talk about this. Suffice it to say that on December 30, 2012, David Gregory came on Meet The Press, esteemed institution in the world of television journalism, and publicly complained about SOMETHING ONE OF THE PRESIDENT'S ADVISERS SAID ON BLOODY BLOODY EFFING TWITTER.
I mean, my god. MY GOD!
There are twenty minutes left! Holy cow! And maybe thirty seconds after Gregory whines about having to endure the slings and arrows of people on Twitter calling him lazy, he presides over a colloquy about today's football game.
The hits keep on coming. Brooks offers a passionate monologue about how cowardly all the people who don't want to starve the elderly are, because the future depends on it. He actually makes a "think of the children" argument, because Lord knows, he doesn't want to get tagged as a lazy pundit. Everyone has a good, hearty laugh.
There is literally no way to a healthy fiscal future, according to this roundtable, without gutting earned benefit programs. And it is astoundingly blinkered. Consider this, from Tom Brokaw, who is supposed to be something of an intellectual.
It starts off reasonably enough:
The president would help himself a lot if he were tougher on the AARP and said look, it's not about the people at the bottom for whom Medicare is really a lifeline. It's about all of the people, including those of us around the table, who get the same benefits. My brother had a great working class career working for the telephone company, but there's a big disparity between what I'm worth and he's worth but we get the same benefits at the end of the day.
But then he advocates furthering the disparity:
There's something wrong with that, and the fact of matter is we're all living longer as well. Social Security can go up if you give it some lead time to retire at 67 and probably 20 years from now to retire maybe at 70 because people are staying in the workplace longer.
Raising the retirement age, though, does not help poor old workin'-class Brother Brokaw out humpin' on the ol' Wichita line or whatever. That Brokaw brother wants to NOT be working a manual labor job into his dotage. It is, however, a GREAT deal for the Brokaw Brother who's job, at that age, is to sit around a couple roundtables for a few hours each month and play rub-n-tug with Jon Meacham.
Then Brokaw says: "[Obama] ought to be able to raise those issues in a way that he can begin to sell them to the idea of we have fundamental reforms we have to do."
But OBAMA HAS done that! He's proposed chained CPI, which would lessen the earned benefits that older Americans have hitherto received by a substantial amount. The problem is not that he hasn't raised the issue, it's that he has not proposed even further gutting of these programs.
It's been pointed out by people other than me, but what you need to realize is that if Obama agreed to essentially burn Social Security and Medicare down by two-thirds of their current potency, this entire roundtable would be saying, "It's a good start, but Obama has yet to demonstrate real courage in the entitlement reform debate."
The roundtable got into a colloquy on gun control, which I missed most of, because of the "404 error" of their entitlement reform discussion that I felt compelled to document, but I gather the consensus is, "Hey, the NRA are so powerful, whatcha gonna do?" Goodwin underscores this by suggesting that Obama's political capital is sufficient to pass, say, immigration reform but probably not gun stuff.
Brooks laments the fact that there will be partisan bickering for the time being. He doesn't even celebrate this week's astounding demonstration of bipartisanship that resulted in keeping the surveillance state our nation's founders clearly desired in tact.
Okay, I think the consensus on "what Obama should do on guns" is "decide on a holistic approach" and then "get on a train" and "ride the train around America" talking to the American people about guns. I think that an American person might point out that the obvious problem with this plan is that our infrastructure is crumbling and we don't have good trains and that it'd be nice if we poured money into restoring this stuff because then people could have jobs and there would be robust economic development alongside the infrastructure renewal, and more people would have more money to buy more stuff and that would bring jobs back and hey, maybe even alleviate some of the dislocation that causes an otherwise reasonable person to conclude the one thing that can save his or her life is to shoot somebody with a gun.
Or, you know, Obama could ride around on an imaginary train, and this panel, after recommending it, could return a week later and complain about all the time Obama is spending on the ride-around-on-a-train-talking-about-guns plan they recommended.